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Criterion’s ‘Traffic’ Delivers the Goods

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Though the Criterion Collection specializes in thought-provoking DVDs of vintage film, the Illinois-based company on occasion showcases more contemporary films like “Armageddon” and “Rushmore.” Criterion now has turned its spotlight on Steven Soderbergh’s multi-Oscar-winning “Traffic” ($40) in a special two-disc set that is packed with extras.

Based on the 1989 British TV miniseries “Traffik,” this complex, multilayered drama from 2000 looks at the dangerous world of drug trafficking. Soderbergh won the Academy Award for best director, Stephen Gaghan picked up the Oscar for his screenplay adaptation, Benicio Del Toro won best supporting actor as a Mexican police detective and Stephen Mirrione received an Oscar for his editing. Besides Del Toro, the ensemble cast includes Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Dennis Quaid, Amy Irving and Don Cheadle.

The first disc of “Traffic” includes the wide-screen edition of the film and three commentary tracks. Soderbergh and Gaghan offer terrific insights into the making of “Traffic.” Especially noteworthy are Soderbergh’s explanations for the distinct visual look for each of the separate story lines--the washed out, almost sepia tones for the Mexico scenes, the blue hues for Douglas’ story set in Cincinnati, and the bright, harsh glow of the San Diego sequences

Producers Laura Bickford, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz and consultants Tim Golden and Craig Chretien participate in the second track, and composer Cliff Martinez discusses the score on the third.

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In addition to 25 deleted scenes with commentary from Soderbergh and Gaghan, the second disc highlights the technical aspects of the filmmaking process. The demonstration explaining the five-step process to achieve the look of the Mexico sequences is a bit too technical. An interactive audio editing demonstration of the dialogue editing process is so “inside” that it will fly over the heads of most viewers. But the outtakes are fascinating, especially multiple angles of the cocktail party sequence in which real U.S. senators, politicians, lobbyists and media personalities discuss their feelings about the war on drugs.

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Sylvester Stallone flexes his pecs and kicks major butt as the former Green Beret John Rambo in three action-thrillers from the 1980s: “First Blood,” “Rambo: First Blood Part II” and “Rambo III.” This week, Artisan Entertainment released a four-disc “Rambo Special Edition” set ($60). The discs for each film include decent making-of documentaries. Novelist David Morrell, who wrote “First Blood” in 1972, talks about the decade-long struggle to get the movie made. Stallone discusses how Kirk Douglas was originally cast to play Rambo’s friend and mentor, Col. Sam Trautman, but left the location before production began because he wanted to have certain changes made in the script, most notably having Rambo’s character die at the end of “First Blood.” Richard Crenna was brought in to replace Douglas.

The fourth disc includes seven featurettes examining everything from the box-office performance of the three “Rambo” movies to the various Rambo toys that were produced, to the weapons Rambo used in the three films. There are also three more documentaries dealing with the Vietnam War, including the very emotional “The Real Nam: Voice From Within,” which features recollections of several Vietnam vets.

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“Sex and the City” executive producer, writer and director Michael Patrick King offers very witty and wicked commentary on four of the 13 episodes on the new “Sex and the City: The Complete Third Season” three-disc DVD set (HBO, $50). Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon star in HBO’s Emmy Award-winning adult comedy series about the lives and loves of four New York friends. Besides commentary, the discs feature cast and crew bios, episodic previews, an episode index and a list of the show’s awards.

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There have been many spoofs over the years of “Star Wars,” but probably the best is 1977’s “Hardware Wars.” It features the characters Fluke Starbucker, Augie Ben Doggie, Princess Anne-Droid (who wears real hot cinnamon buns in her hair), Ham Salad and Darth Nader. A new DVD (Tapeworm Video, $15) features a witty commentary track from writer-director Ernie Fosselius, comments from producer Michael Wiese, a lame spoof of “Antiques Roadshow,” a “director’s” cut filled with very funny outtakes and a pirated “foreign” version.

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Czech director Jan Sverak, who admits he’s so shy he has a difficult time shooting love scenes, offers sweet commentary on the digital edition of his World War II epic, “Dark Blue World” (Columbia TriStar, $30). Sverak is joined in his commentary by his British producer, Eric Abraham, who helps the Czech director with his sometimes shaky English. Sverak and Abraham previously collaborated on the Oscar-winning foreign film “Kolya.”

“Dark Blue World” tells the story of how Czech fighter pilots fled their country after the German occupation and went to England to fly with the RAF. When they returned home after the war, though, they were imprisoned by the Communist-run Czech government. Despite good performances from the Czech and English cast, “Dark Blue World” is eventually grounded by a predictable love triangle subplot.

Besides commentary, the digital edition features a documentary on the making of the film, a look at the visual effects and a photo montage.

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The charming 1988 Disney animated musical, “Oliver & Company,” which is loosely based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist,” arrived on DVD this week ($23) in a not-very-special edition. The DVD includes a ho-hum documentary on the making of the film, a very brief featurette focusing on the history of Disney’s animated animals, a gallery of production art and two sing-along music videos. The best extra on the DVD by far is the Oscar-winning 1941 short “Lend a Paw,” in which Pluto gets more than he bargained for when he rescues a mischievous kitten from certain death.

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The thriller “Sorry, Wrong Number” began its life as a 30-minute installment of the old radio show “Suspense.” Taut and terrifying, it featured a bravura radio performance from Agnes Moorehead as an invalid alone in her house who learns that two hit men are coming to kill her. The episode was so popular it was rebroadcast seven times and turned into a novel. The 1948 film stars Barbara Stanwyck, appropriately fearful and neurotic as the doomed invalid (she received an Oscar nomination). But the film is weighted down with flashbacks and one too many characters. Burt Lancaster stars as the husband who puts out the hit. The DVD (Paramount, $25) features a nice transfer of the film and the original trailer.


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